In the face of the recent shift towards taking a different approach to the introduction of physical education and sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines through a foundation on physical literacy, the reality of the existing challenges that negatively impact the work must be addressed.
One of the most debilitating features in respect of the inculcation of a new approach to sport is the shameful undermining of fellow coaches by some of our more experienced ones.
We have always been taught that experience is the best teacher.
It is understood that experience comes from working in a particular field of endeavour over a period of time. It is the knowledge and skill competencies acquired by being at a particular occupation that allows for heightened proficiency in respect of what is required to attain success.
Generally, we believe that experience allows an individual to speak and demonstrate competence in the particular area of work enough to bring an understanding of it to others.
Experience does not come automatically with age. It comes from continues practice and continuous learning.
In most of our Caribbean countries we have displayed an inability to adequately weight experience. We usually ignore the value of experience in our institutions.
However, it is also true that those who we sometimes believe to be experienced in a particular area may display an approach to work that is scary and reveals that years of practice may have allowed for the inculcation of inappropriate values and operational styles that are not in the best interest of the organisation to which they belong. These types the organisation can do without. This is as true in sport as it is in other spheres of human endeavour.
Coaching like teaching is a vocation, not merely a profession.
One has to have the right disposition to be an effective coach.
It is important that coaches be well trained, experienced, passionate about the sport in which they are involved, respectful of their charges and ensure that the methodologies used are not injurious to the health and general wellbeing of the athletes.
Coaches often become major father-figures to their athletes. They become counsellors, friends, family and confidantes of their athletes. It is therefore possible that coaches can quite easily get their various roles confused such that they betray the trust place din them by the parents of their athletes and the athletes themselves and bring an early end to the sport career of the youths.
It is also possible that coaches, in their eagerness to win athletes can allow themselves sot lose all self-respect and cajole the athlete through gifts and endless dialogue thereby making the latter utterly dependent on them alone for any sort of guidance. This may well extend beyond sport.
Coaching can readily be misplaced and athletes destroyed.
Genuine coaches ensure that one of their primary functions is to aid the athlete in the movement towards maturation and independence. This is the primary reason that in the Column featured in The News newspaper dated Friday 26 February 2016 mention was made of the importance of a team approach to contemporary coaching. No single individual coach, however well intentioned, can do it alone. He/she must ensure that there are other appropriately qualified personnel integrated into his/her preparation of athletes.
Coaching involves preparing the athlete not just for competition but for life itself. Coaches that fail to understand this fundamental truth cannot be trusted with athletes.
Coaches must operate under a very strict code of conduct that serve as their behavioural guidelines at all times.
Coaches must elevate themselves to the status of true professionals operating within the general ethical and moral standards associated with their profession and vocation. This means respecting each other as much as they are expected to respect the athlete sin their charge.
Coaches do not denounce other coaches.
Coaches do not speak ill of other coaches.
Coaches do not speak to athletes of other coaches in a derogatory manner.
Coaches as professionals hold each other in high regard and while aware that they are in a competitive business, avoid the vagaries of divisiveness. Instead they strive to establish sound working relationships, sharing information, new research and ideas regarding the sport of choice.
Coaches seek to ensure that the national good is placed above self interest at all times.
The Vincentian reality
It is unfortunate that in some sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines some coaches are not prepared to work by any rules other than self interest.
Some years ago, one of this country’s up and coming young female athletes was unfortunately withdrawn from further participation in the finals of the annual Inter Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships at Arnos Vale.
The athlete had been advised by her personal coach that she should not participate in the 1500m, the first event of the day, because he felt that she had an opportunity in the 800m, the first event in the afternoon session, to do a good performance and possibly make the established Carifta standards.
The discussion between the coach and the athlete did not involve the school’s physical education teacher or the principal of the institution.
As the athletes were on the start line the physical education teacher realised his student athlete was absent and quickly intervened to delay the start in order to ascertain the problem. He was shocked to learn of the earlier decision taken by the coach and the athlete. He insisted that the athlete fulfil her commitment to the school as is the norm.
Unfortunately, the athlete opted to jog the entire race rather than run and while finishing a distant last, waved to the packed Arnos Vale audience. The result was a decision by the school to withdraw the athlete from further participation as a disciplinary measure. The coach then sought to berate and calumniate the physical education teacher.
The foregoing incident is a perfect example of how a coach must not behave.
Everyone knows and understands that while at school the student has a responsibility to fulfil the requirements of a student of the institution or leave it.
But the problem here is tantamount to what has become an annoying reality in St Vincent and the Grenadines amongst a small cadre of coaches who seem to think that they own the athlete.
Over the past four years there has also emerged the problem where students selected to the national representative team to the annual Windward Islands Schools Games in the vacation following the conclusion of the academic year have been advised by the personal coach not to attend and represent the country.
Indeed in 2015 it became necessary for the Ministry of Education to intervene with some of the parents after having arrived at an understanding that the personal coach had sought to influence not only the student athlete but also the parents.
It was the Ministry of Education that had to remind parents involved of the role played by the government and that the engagement in the annual Windward Islands Schools Games formed an important part of the broader education of the student.
The matter of coaches operating as owners of the athletes is a dangerous one and creates no end of confusion in the mind of the individual athlete.
The situation has also become even more critical.
Preying on athletes
We have also had cases where athletes loyal to his/her personal coach have been coerced into going after athletes training with other coaches. The latest such incident took place in the past week. This despicable practice is an unfortunate and increasing phenomenon in this country and, for the most part, perpetrated by a select few coaches.
Coaches have been consistent in their reporting of these incidents where their athletes have been harassed to get them to leave their team to go with them under the pretext that their coach will deliver a better quality coaching and produce better results. This is unadulterated lack of professionalism. This is operating outside the parameters of a code of conduct for coaches.
That a coach would get athletes to go after other coaches’ athletes is reprehensible and constitutes an unwarranted attack on other coaches.
While it is understandable that an athlete or a parent may, after examining the results of athletes in any given period, opt to move the athlete to another coach is fine. What is unforgiveable is that a coach should surreptitiously engineer such action against fellow coaches.
Athletes come from varying backgrounds and their socialisation experiences are as varied. That a coach should seek to seize upon this reality and cajole them into becoming agents of sorts for his work as a coach is unacceptable.
Physical education teachers and coaches have been complaining about this unsavoury practice and the time has come for it to end.
Coaches must display professionalism or leave the sport. There is no place in sport for those who are not prepared to understand and operate by a professional code of conduct.